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Wednesday, June 5, 2019

REVISED: Effective Campaign Finance Reform


This is a very long post with the entire text of the proposal.

[Links to sources available only in Kindle edition. ©2019, Mike P. McKeever, San Francisco, CA, USA]

TOWARD EFFECTIVE CAMPAIGN FINANCE REFORM: Adapting Ancient Codes


PREFACE

Do we need to worry about the fact that 40% of United States Congressmen and Congresswomen women are millionaires?

Maybe it's just fine that rich people make our laws and policies, after all they must be good at stuff since they are rich.

But, wait a second. In a word: No. They're not good at everything just because they are rich.

It is not OK that rich people make our laws.

The reason is simple - rich people want to stay rich and get richer. It's what they do.

And, when you're rich and in Congress you can make laws that make you even richer. Or, hear about opportunities for profit before the rest of us.

And, yes, all that is illegal. But, guess what: the laws ain't working. Income and wealth divides in the USA are getting bigger and bigger. And this is despite the fact that some elected officials have been prosecuted for ethics violations.

I think Americans want people in our government to do things that are right for all of us. It's time to take away the opportunity for the rich to profit at our expense while they are in government.

It's especially important today since the problems we face are species wide. If we don't get the right answers, homo sapiens might become extinct. That's right. As a species, we are facing real threats to our survival.

That means we need people in government who make decisions for all of us, not just for themselves.

SOLUTION

Here is a proposed solution: require all public servants to place their assets into a blind trust while they are serving.

That way, they won't be able to make a profit from their actions and, perhaps, will make better decisions for all of us. It's a really good idea and there is more about it below.

But, it is unlikely that the rich people in our government will agree to make it a mandatory thing.

So, perhaps it is time to ask all our officials whether or not they have VOLUNTARILY placed their assets into a trust. Officials whose assets are not under their control while they are serving will be more likely to make better decisions for all of us.

TOWARD EFFECTIVE CAMPAIGN FINANCE REFORM


Table of Contents

a. Introduction

b. Biographical Note

c. Past response History

d. Suggested Goal

e. Look to Ancient Codes

f. Ancient advice to a ruler

g. Adapting Ancient Codes

h. Creating a Blind Trust Process


INTRODUCTION

It is apparent to all but the most myopic observers that our current political and economic systems are based on a zero sum game model; that is to say, I can have more for me and my family only by taking it from you and your family.

The result of this approach is an adversarial society in which businesses try to lower wage costs by any available means and workers are disadvantaged since they don’t have the political power that business owners have. Labor unions were an attempt to balance the scales; and, when unions were effective, they did a reasonably effective job of balancing incomes and wealth.

Capital responded in the legislature by weakening the power of labor unions to negotiate for workers. The days of unions representing workers effectively are over. Capital runs amok.

But, even that was tolerable so long as the challenges that we as human beings faced were relatively benign and stable.

Unfortunately the challenges we face today are species wide. These challenges – global warming, population growth, the rise of tyranny – are simply stronger than the collective will that we can assemble in an adversarial society. Collectively these challenges are existential to our species.

Many observers have noted that when a political body is severely unbalanced, the likelihood of a violent change becomes stronger.

The United States has a recent history of providing opportunities for the ‘few’ to enrich themselves at the expense of the ‘many’.

Those conditions are well documented elsewhere and are taken as givens here.


PAST AMERICAN RESPONSE - HISTORY

Those conditions referred to above have led to past and current calls for ‘campaign finance reform’ as a means to encourage our system to protect the ‘many’. These calls, however, are based on the simplistic assumption that the primary reason for the American system’s failure to protect the many is due to direct campaign contributions to politicians in exchange for access to the politicians who can influence legislation affecting the donors’ interests.

The logic of past proposals has been this: Once the identities of the donors are made public, the receiving politicians will be ashamed to provide favors for the donors.

Congressional ethics and conflict of interest laws were adopted in the 1970's in an attempt to control legislative behavior. [https://ethics.house.gov/financial-dislosure/policies-underlying-disclosure]

But, several members of Congress have been jailed or fined due to corruption since the 1980's; a detailed list prepared by the Washington Post is available here:

[washingtonpost - the-fix, 2015.07.29]

Here are a few examples from that article:
‘2015
Rep. Chaka Fattah (D-Pa.): on 29 counts (with others involved), accused of racketeering and misappropriating hundreds of thousands of dollars following his failed run for mayor of Philadelphia in 2007.
Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.): on 14 counts, including eight counts of bribery, in connection with helping a friend and supporter with his business interests. The case is still open, and Menendez is still in the Senate, vowing to fight.
2013
Rep. Michael Grimm (R-N.Y.) : on 20 counts, including five counts of mail and and wire fraud and three counts related to filing false tax returns, in connection with a Manhattan restaurant he ran called "Healthalicious." He was sentenced this month to eight months in prison.
2008
Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska): on seven counts, including making false statements, in connection with more than a quarter of a million dollars allegedly gifted from oil company executives to upgrade his home. His subsequent conviction was later overturned.
Rep. Rick Renzi (R-Ariz.): on 35 counts, including conspiracy, wire fraud and money laundering, and accused of influencing a land deal in exchange for hundreds of thousands of dollars. He was sentenced to three years in prison.
2007
Rep. William Jefferson (D-La.): on 16 counts, accused of accepting about $500,000 in bribes. He was sentenced to 13 years in prison. The FBI found $90,000 in his freezer.
2005
Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Texas): accused of conspiring with political associates to influence Texas state legislative races through a PAC that illegally gave corporate contributions for candidates. He was convicted, but the conviction was overturned by a court in 2013.
2001
Rep. James Traficant (D-Ohio): on multiple counts, including bribery, tax evasion and accepting illegal gifts, and accused of a "pattern of racketeering" by soliciting bribes in return for official favors. He was sentenced to eight years in prison.’

The campaign finance laws adopted in the 1970’s did not eliminate the problem. Elected officials did not rise to the challenges we face as a species.

An apparent weakness of Congressional Ethics laws seems to be that the laws rely on public disclosure as the primary punishment for illegal behavior, failing any criminal prosecutions. In other words, there does not appear to be any enforcement mechanism except court actions resulting from public disclosure or voter disapproval. These disclosure principles and practices operate in an environment where incumbents have a distinct advantage in re-election campaigns AND in a society where many businesses believe - and act - that a criminal act is a good business decision whenever the reward is more than the fine or punishment.


SUGGESTED GOAL

One goal can be a legislature which acts for our common good instead of for their own self-interest.

But, current laws designed to reduce the influence of money and self-interest have proven ineffective in achieving that goal.

Perhaps the question becomes this: How do we create a group of legislators that will act for the common good of the species?

What we want is a government composed of people who serve to make our lives better. Since our past efforts at campaign reform have failed to provide that, perhaps it is time to consider a different approach.

It would be good if any proposed system will improve governing even if it is not universally adopted. That means that adopting the proposal can be voluntary and not forced.

If a few legislators adopt the proposal, voters will see their actions as more responsive and less self interested. The hope is that those few officials are re-elected easily. Once the share of legislators approaches 50%, it is likely that most will join voluntarily. Any remaining holdouts will become pariahs.


LOOK TO ANCIENT CODES FOR A NEW SOLUTION

The proposed system herein is modeled on our ancient practices of rulers who governed very closely to their subjects.

The proposal will remove the possibility of Legislators profiting from their decisions while in office. Perhaps then legislators will make choices for our nation instead of their own wealth.

This may be less naive than it appears. That’s because the people who aspire to public service will do so because they think that they can make things better for the entire country instead of looking to profit personally from their decisions.

As background, I return to an ancient philosophy of governing from a time when leaders were known to the people. Government was more direct - if the leader failed it was evident immediately and the leader was replaced or the society suffered.

Perhaps we can adapt some ideas from that earlier time. Although the ideas herein were generated in Medieval Ireland, it is very likely that such ideas were universal at that time. It was a time in which the Cathedrals and forts, remains of which dot the European landscape today, were built.

The following is taken from a blog post by Stiofán MacAmhalghaidh in 'Fír Flathemon, Collective Responsibility and Social Order in Early Medieval Ireland', a link to which is provided below.


ADVICE TO A RULER

Audacht Morainn

"Let him raise truth, it will raise him.
Let him exalt mercy, it exalth him
Let him care for his tribes, they will care for him
Let him help his tribes, they will help him
Let him soothe his tribes, they will soothe him"

[Fergus Kelly, A Guide To Early Irish Law, DIAS, 1988, 18-21. Kelly tends to favour 'justice' as a translation of fírinne, though one of the purposes of the present discussion is to show that 'truth' may be closer to the original meaning in most cases.]

'The advice in Audacht Morainn is built on a set of ideas about the individual's place in society and the rights and responsibilities this brings, about proper social order and the impact individual action has on this order and about the proper ordering of nature and the impact that the balance of social order has on that natural order. Cath Maige Tuired, though a mythical tale of the Túatha Dé Danann, is structured such as to demonstrate both the effects of disrupting the social and natural order and of restoring the balance to both systems. The central role of the rí, as the pinnacle of the social hierarchy, means that attention naturally falls on the actions of the holder of that position in both texts, especially in Audacht Morainn. This does not mean that his actions are the only ones that have an impact, and while this is implied in Audacht Morainn it is a constant theme in Cath Maige Tuired. Everyone has a place in society, everyone's actions have consequences, and everyone is affected by those consequences. Lug's request for knowledge from Bres completes the loop of action and consequences, linking individual, society and nature. The individual affects society, society affects nature, nature affects the individual.

Audacht Morainn, though written in the form of advice sent to a young ruler, contains within it a world-view capable of informing the actions of everyone in early medieval Irish society. Cath Maige Tuired, written as a mythical history of the gods and goddesses of Ireland's ancient past, contains in it a working-out of the world-view of Audacht Morainn and, though not structured as a lesson, it, too, can also inform the actions of the medieval Irish individual. For us, Cath Maige Tuired, though perhaps failing to give us a 'mirror on the Iron Age' can at least hold up a mirror to the society of early medieval Ireland.'

Blog post by Stiofán MacAmhalghaidh; Stiofán MacAmhalghaidh is Project Manager of the IRQUAS online Irish heritage project and Editor of INSIGHT Journal

Fír Flathemon, Collective Responsibility and Social Order in Early Medieval Ireland: Using Audacht Morainn to Interpret Cath Maige Tuired


ADAPTING ANCIENT CODES TO A 21ST CENTURY SYSTEM

So then, the question becomes: "How is it possible to adapt that concept of responsibility to 21st Century Society?"

One answer for the United States may be to change the ethics rules for all United States Federal employees who are elected and/or Confirmed by the Senate so that they do NOT have any incentive to act in their own, personal interests and against the people's interests.

The goal is to ensure as much as possible that all Officials cannot make a monetary gain from their positions while serving.

The Proposal

** Require that all elected officials have an option to place all their assets exceeding One Million Dollars into a blind trust so that they cannot make any additions to or subtractions from the trust until 90 days after they are out of office.

** Require that all appointed and confirmed officials must place their assets above One Million Dollars into a blind trust so long as they serve.

** Require that all elected or appointed officials submit their federal tax returns each year to the FBI OFFICE OF ETHICS ENFORCEMENT while they hold the office.

** The FBI shall proactively examine each individual's financial transaction to look for violation of conflict of interest or other pecuniary gain and shall bring enforcement actions whenever it is warranted.

This is different from the current system, which relies on public disclosure to ensure compliance.

CREATING A BLIND TRUST PROCESS

The House Ethics Committee shall create a procedure whereby the Committee Staff will provide a blind trust facility to all qualified and interested parties.

HOUSE ETHICS COMMITTEE MEMBERS AND STAFF CONTACTS

Ethics Committee Members - Republicans

Susan W. Brooks, Indiana - Chairwoman; Kenny Marchant, Texas; Leonard Lance, New Jersey; Mimi Walters, California; John Ratcliffe, Texas

Democrats

Ted Deutch, Florida - Ranking Member; Yvette D. Clarke, New York; Jared Polis, Colorado; Anthony Brown, Maryland; Steve Cohen, Tennessee

The Staff Director is Tom Rust, Chief Counsel & Staff Director

HOUSE ETHICS COMMITTEE
1015 Longworth House Office Building (LHOB)
Washington, DC 20515
Phone: 202-225-7103
Fax: 202-225-7392
Office Hours: Mon. - Fri.
9:00 a.m. - 6:00 p.m.